Pat Summitt: Gone, But Never Forgotten

By Victoria Robertson on July 7, 2016
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Pat Summitt passed away last Tuesday at the age of 64, and the public is taking the loss pretty hard.

For those that aren’t familiar with her, Summitt was the coach of the Tennessee women’s basketball team, and she was (and forever will be) a legend in the industry.

Summitt’s time in the industry was pivotal in Title IX, which is federal legislation “guaranteeing equal opportunity in athletics and education” which was enacted in 1972. However, all Summitt wanted to do was achieve excellence. This was just icing on the cake.

She coached her teams to 1,098 victories, more than any male or female in NCAA Division I sports. She also coached 20 all-Americans as well as 70 players that went on to become coaches at various levels in the sport. She also was the first Olympian from the U.S. to win medals as a player and as a coach. She was also the first to hit 800 wins as well as the first female coach to reach a $1 million salary.

And in 2012, she was bestowed with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (which is the country’s highest, civilian honor).

Her death was somewhat expected, as Summitt succumbed to early-onset Alzheimer’s after battling the disease for about five years.

There were initial indications that were brushed past as Summitt simply believed she was being forgetful, but this quickly changed when one of the most punctual coaches in sports began forgetting her schedule and was hesitant about calling plays.

She went through many tests at the Mayo Clinic and quickly learned she had Alzheimer’s.

However, she didn’t let it get her down. In her own words, “A pity-party is a waste of time. It doesn’t do any good to feel sorry for yourself.”

However, she did have to step away from her career eight months after the diagnosis and after 38 seasons.

She ended her career with a 1,098-208 record and a .841 winning percentage.

According to a statement from her son, Tyler, she had died peacefully at Sherrill Hill Senior Living surrounded by those who loved her.

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The tragic circumstances of her death are outshone by her unbelievable coaching talents and amazing attitude on the court.

As the Washington Post put it, Summitt is “a national treasure, enduring role model, ultimate champion and, above all … [elevated] notions of what was possible for female athletes in all sports.”

To say she’s someone to look up to would be a major understatement, as she will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most important people in sports. To put her excellence into perspective, President Obama spoke in the wake of Summitt’s death with the following statement:

“Nobody walked off a college basketball court victorious more times than Tennessee’s Pat Summitt. For four decades, she outworked her rivals, made winning an attitude, loved her players like family, and became a role model to millions of Americans, including our two daughters … Her legacy, however, is measured much more by the generations of young women and men who admired Pat’s intense competitiveness and character, and as a result found in themselves the confidence to practice hard, play harder, and live with courage on and off the court.”

Such praise from the President of the United States isn’t given normally, so it certainly speaks to what kind of motivator, coach and overall person Pat Summitt was. Of course, President Obama was not the only one to speak out in Summitt’s support.

Brenda Frese, the coach of Maryland’s women’s basketball team, said, “Just like a lot of young girls, I grew up admiring Coach Summitt and she’s a big reason I’m in this business. Her legacy will live on and she will be missed.”

Even her rivals spoke out.

According to Geno Auriemma, the coach of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team, Summitt was “the defining figure” of the sport and “a lot of people coach the game, but very few people get to define the game.”

And female athletes and coaches were not the only ones that respected and found Summitt inspiring.

Recently retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, a Tennessee alum that formed a close relationship with Summitt while he was there, said, “I was coached by a lot of great men, but I always wanted the experience of being coached by Pat Summitt. I envied her players and what they had with her. It’s why I sought her out as a friend.”

David Cutcliffe, the Duke football coach, also spoke to his relationship with Summitt in saying, “Pat’s ability to motivate young women within the team concept while incorporating life lessons was one of the many things I admired about her. And I don’t know if anyone has done it with more class, humility and success than she did. Every coach and educator should have a heavy heart today — she will be missed dearly.”

But perhaps she is best described and preserved in her own words.

In her biography titled “Sum it Up,” Summitt says, “My memories are not so much made up of information, but rather of episodes and engagements with the people I love … The things I struggle with — times, dates, schedules — are things you could as easily read on a digital watch or a calendar. But people and emotions are engraved in me.”

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Victoria is a dedicated writer who graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She currently writes freelance pieces for various sites and works in Marketing for Myndbee Inc., promoting their current mobile app, Picpal.

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